- Tali Simon
- Melissa Amster
- Ruchi Koval
- Rivki Silver
- Keshet Starr
- Estee Lavitt
- and yours truly.
This month’s question is this:
How much do you engage in popular music, movies and other forms of entertainment? What factors have contributed to that choice?
Wow! We’ve got a lot of variety in responses. Let’s see what our roundtable panelists have to say...
How much do I engage in all that? Well, mostly I don’t. But sometimes I do.
I engage in music, movies, TV, and other forms of entertainment all the time. I’m a pop-culture addict. I basically grew up watching TV, listening to music, and going to movies all the time. I love all types of music from modern rock, to classic rock, to Rat Pack era, to Broadway, to country. I also have a book blog that celebrates chick lit novels called Chick Lit Central (http://chicklitcentral.com). I talk about pop culture a lot there, as well as at my personal blog.
In my community, a lot of people watch TV, movies, etc. Some go to rock concerts, Broadway shows, etc. I recently got a friend, who is also Modern Orthodox, addicted to the TV series Orphan Black. Another friend in the community says she likes hip hop and rap music. One of my close friends in the community loves the musical Rent as much as I do and we exchange People and Entertainment Weekly magazines with each other. I have deep discussions via Facebook about Glee with a friend who is slightly more observant than I am (we originally became close because of our shared love for this show when it first premiered).
So I think [my approach] is [as much] about me being raised Reform and watching Saturday morning cartoons as it is about the social factors involved with liking certain TV shows, movies, music groups, etc. There’s such a mix involved when it comes to all things pop culture.
Melissa Amster lives in Maryland (DC Metro area) with her husband, two sons and daughter. When she’s not reading and interviewing authors for her book blog, she works for a Jewish non-profit. In her spare time (what’s that?!?), she likes to watch her favorite shows on TV, bake challah, and desserts, and host meals and other gatherings. Check out her personal blog and follow her on Twitter.
Unlike many of my friends, I am living my Judaism in pretty much the identical way I was raised, with one notable difference: I engage in a lot less of music, movies, and other forms of entertainment.
Ruchi Koval is an Orthodox Jewish woman. Married, 7 kids. Yeah, you heard right.
She co-founded and directs the Jewish Family Experience, a family education center and Sunday school located in Cleveland, Ohio. She is also a certified parenting coach, runs character-development groups for women, and is a motivational speaker.
My main goal when it comes to all forms of media is to use them intentionally. I don’t think TV or music or any other medium is all good or all bad–it’s just important to use it thoughtfully, especially because technology has a real way of sucking you in! When I was a freshman in college, I made the decision not to buy a TV for my dorm–and years later, as a now-religious woman, I keep to the same choice. While I do watch some TV shows online, I find that watching online allows me to pick and choose which shows I watch and also to watch them on my schedule, rather than winding up watching something just because it was on. My favorite shows are HGTV and random reality/documentary shows about interesting cultures, like 19 Kids & Counting, National Geographic series, and basically anything involving Amish people. My husband often works late, so having a show I enjoy to watch while I relax and eat dinner is really helpful in keeping me from feeling too lonely.
I will be the first one to say, though, and I’m not holding exactly where I want to be on this issue. Part of why I loved this question is that it really made me think, and although that kind of introspection can be a uncomfortable, I think it’s such a critical part of Jewish life. Although I’m extremely careful in what I expose my children to (especially in terms of TV and the radio), this will make me think much more about what I expose myself to, as well!
It’s difficult to strike a balance between maintaining a religious insular life and participating in the culture that surrounds us in order to be worldly and informed.
Growing up in a Modern Orthodox home, I went to movies. In high school I was inspired to stop going to the theater and watching movies, trying to intensify my religious devotion. While I have watched many movies since, I have not returned to the theater, maintaining a level of separation from the culture of movies. If I want to see a movie so badly, I have to wait until it comes out on DVD. I often skip movies because I forget and just don’t think about it much. I’ve learned to separate myself from the need to go see a movie and I find this is not a difficult boundary to keep. Today’s movies are not what I was watching at a young age, and I do not want my own children watching them. It’s important to me to keep the standards I want for my children. Therefore, movies are not part of our lives. We entertain ourselves in other ways, stretching the imagination and doing activities that keep us moving and simulated.
As far as music goes, the same applies. If Taylor Swift has the most wholesome lyrics out there, you know you’re in trouble. I don’t want the attitudes of love and lust that pop music espouse to become the norm for my children. Though Jewish music may leave a lot to be desired, I’d rather have words of Torah wisdom and prayers stuck in my head. I struggle with this because the Jewish music scene needs more talent and creativity. I try to teach my kids the classics and sing Jewish songs at home to instill a love of music and Jewish culture.
I hope my kids will be able to strike the right balance, to be worldly and knowledgeable while staying true to their roots and religion. They’ll find their own path. I just hope I give them the appropriate tools to do so.
Estee Lavitt likes to blog about her journey through life with her 4 children and amazing husband. She is a working mother who loves cooking (too much!), photography (just learning) and playing with her kids (too cute!).Check out her blog at www.esteelavitt.com.
When I was a teen, I watched hours of TV daily. As soon as I shut the TV off, I switched on the radio. And if I had the day off, I could watch four videos back-to-back. Even before I became totally observant, I realized that the exorbitant amount of TV-viewing and movie-watching I was engaging in was for me (emphasis: for me) not coming from the healthiest place. It was a way to escape reality and to avoid dealing with unpleasant emotions, such as boredom, shyness, frustration, and sadness.
The more I learned to connect with people and engage in non-media-related activities, the less heavily I relied on my crutch. Later, when I became a teacher, I noticed how my students were affected by TV. After reading up on the subject, I became very skeptical of children’s programming on television, very critical of Disney films, and much more sensitive to commercialism, foul language, and violence overall. Don’t get me started on video games.
Eventually, I became observant, but I didn’t abandon movies right away. I just became more selective. When I met my husband, he shared many of my concerns, and we decided not to have a TV in our home. Occasionally, we watched movies at the theater or videos with friends at their houses. Initially, I listened to the same music I always did.
When we became parents (over a decade ago), our media consumption became a bigger issue. My husband and I realized that we couldn’t expect our kids to refrain from movie-viewing and listening to music with lyrics containing swear words and crazy messages if we continued to do so. We were most concerned about messages that promoted the myth of infatuation, suggested materialistic goals, highlighted superficial beauty over the inner kind, or poked fun at some people for the benefit of others.
Things in the Klempner household currently stand like this:
- We still have no TV (and no Hulu, Netflix, or the like).
- We don’t go to the movie theater, unless you count documentaries (think IMAX at the California Science Center) or Jewish-themed films like those of Robin Saex Garbose.
- The Kids: My children read secular books and magazines that either my husband, another trusted source, or myself have previewed. Reading material we actually own will be altered by my Sharpie if they contain foul language or mature concepts. The kids occasionally watch a video online that is not Jewish – generally Nova or something else off PBS – if my husband or I have pre-screened it. The secular music they listen to is classical or pre-screened (as in, we listen to Bob Marley singing “Three Little Birds” but not Jane’s Addiction singing, well, anything).
- Me: I sometimes listen to oldies in the car on Fridays on the way to carpool, if I’m particularly tired or cranky. I listen to lots of Jewish music, jazz, classical, and world music while writing, doing laundry or dishes. From time to time, I’ll listen to something more recent, but not if it contains bad language. When a new hit song appears on the charts, I usually have no idea until it gets remade into a Jewish one by the Maccabeats. Mostly, I read YA if I read secular fiction. I’ll occasionally read books with a bit of foul language, but if more than one or two F-bombs get dropped or there are excessive violence or racy scenes, in general I’ll take the book back to the library unfinished, with some exceptions. On Shabbos, I only read Jewish books. If I’m sick or folding five loads of laundry two days before Pesach, I might indulge in a bit of PBS online and wish there were more Jewish movies that actually targeted adult audiences.
- Mr. K.: My husband’s consumption of secular media is WAAAAAY less than mine or the kids. He feels it’s bittul Torah, and I’m not going to argue with that.
Rebecca Klempner blogs right here at rebeccaklempner.com. She is an Orthodox Jew, wife, mother, writer, and editor in Los Angeles. You can find her writing online and in the print world in places like Binah, Tablet, Hamodia, and The Jewish Home L.A.